Dakota Pipeline Protesters, Nearby Residents Brace For 2017 | KUOW News and Information

Dakota Pipeline Protesters, Nearby Residents Brace For 2017

Jan 4, 2017
Originally published on January 4, 2017 9:39 am

Even though most of the protesters fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota have left, hundreds still remain here atop what is essentially a sheet of ice.

One group of campers say there's a change taking hold at camp, which was once overrun by thousands who felt a sense of excitement about the gathering.

Byron Shorty, who lives on the Navajo reservation in Arizona, says now that the Army Corps of Engineers is temporarily halting pipeline construction, the protest camp is calm.

"I want to be here to reflect, and I want to be here to help clean up our abandoned campsites that I still see," he says. "And we're in the process of cleaning those up and repurposing the things that people left behind."

Others, like Jacob Chamberlain, who came here from Scotland, are doing daily chores like chopping firewood.

"It's not about taking selfies and saying that you were out here anymore. At this point, it's about being hearty, surviving in the cold," Chamberlain says.

Earlier this month, the Army Corps said it would conduct a lengthy environmental review of this project, even as a fossil fuel-friendly administration is coming to Washington. Standing Rock council member Chad Harrison attended a recent meeting between tribes and the Trump transition team and was pleased that could even happen.

"My hope is that that's an indicator of how serious he'll be when it comes to Native American issues," he says.

But Doug Burgum, North Dakota's new governor, is urging President-elect Donald Trump to approve the project. He's doing that even as he recently met with Standing Rock leaders in an effort to rebuild frayed relationships.

A community divided

Demonstrations have caused gridlock, disrupted businesses and severely stretched police resources.

"It really kind of makes me sad when I see the picture that is being painted across the nation, this narrative that it's this bad cop thing happening. And that's not here in North Dakota. Not at all." says Shelle Aberle of Bismarck, N.D., who runs a Facebook page supporting law enforcement. "Our law enforcement are there to protect both sides."

Other residents back the pipeline opponents. The Unitarian Universalist congregation has supplied food to camp and shelter.

In this protest, both sides often seemed to speak right past each other. Minister Karen Van Fossan says that should be changing.

"We aren't often talking about the things that are on our minds, and now we really are," Van Fossan says.

Kay LaCoe hopes that's true. The Bismarck resident recently called on residents to support businesses targeted by protesters. But soon after, hateful messages flooded her Facebook. She even received death threats and just wants a final decision on the pipeline to end all this tension.

"Whatever the government and the tribe and the energy companies decide to do with that pipeline, I'm good with it. Just give me my hometown back," she says.

But the legal battle over the pipeline will likely continue to play out in 2017 as North Dakotans grapple both with the protesters and the fallout from their continued presence.

Amy Sisk reports for Prairie Public Broadcasting and for Inside Energy, a public media collaboration focused on America's energy issues.

Copyright 2017 Prairie Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Prairie Public Broadcasting.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Protesters in North Dakota successfully blocked construction of a pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation this past year, but it is unclear what happens when Donald Trump takes office. Here's Inside Energy's Amy Sisk.

AMY SISK, BYLINE: Even now after most of the protesters have left, hundreds remain here atop what is essentially a sheet of ice. A group of campers chip away at a pile of snow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOVELING)

SISK: They say there is a change taking hold at camp, which was once overrun by thousands who felt a sense of excitement about the gathering. Byron Shorty, who lives on the Navajo reservation in Arizona, says now that the Army Corps of Engineers is temporarily halting pipeline construction, the protest camp is calm.

BYRON SHORTY: I want to be here to reflect. And I want to be here to help clean up our abandoned campsites, you know, that I still see. And we're in the process of cleaning those up and repurposing the things that people left behind.

SISK: Others like Jacob Chamberlain, who came here from Scotland, are doing daily chores like chopping firewood.

JACOB CHAMBERLAIN: It's not about, you know, taking selfies and saying that you were out here anymore. At this point it's about being hearty, surviving in the cold.

SISK: The Army Corps said it would conduct a lengthy environmental review of this project, even as a fossil fuel-friendly administration is coming to Washington. Standing Rock council member Chad Harrison attended a recent meeting between tribes and the Trump transition team and was pleased that could even happen.

CHAD HARRISON: My hope is that that's an indicator of how serious he'll be when it comes to Native American issues.

SISK: But North Dakota's new governor, Doug Burgum, is urging Donald Trump to approve the project. He's doing that even as he recently met with Standing Rock leaders in an effort to rebuild frayed relationships. Demonstrations have caused gridlock, disrupted businesses and severely stretched police resources. Shelle Aberle of Bismarck runs a Facebook page supporting law enforcement.

SHELLE ABERLE: It really kind of makes me sad when I see the picture that's being painted across the nation, this narrative that, you know, it's this bad cop thing happening. And that's not here in North Dakota. Not at all. Our law enforcement are there to protect both sides.

SISK: But other residents back the pipeline opponents. The Unitarian Universalist congregation has supplied food to camp and shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) We all need somebody to lean on.

SISK: In this protest, both sides often seem to speak right past each other. Minister Karen Van Fossan says that should be changing.

KAREN VAN FOSSAN: We aren't often talking about the things that are on our minds. And now we really are.

SISK: Kay LaCoe hopes that's true. The Bismarck resident recently called on residents to support businesses targeted by protesters. But soon after, hateful messages flooded her Facebook.

KAY LACOE: Hashtag #RacistNorthDakota.

SISK: She even received death threats and just wants a final decision on the pipeline to end all this tension.

KAY LACOE: Whatever the government and the tribe and the energy companies decide to do with that pipeline, I'm good with it. Just give me my hometown back.

SISK: But the legal battle over the pipeline will likely continue to play out as North Dakotans grapple both with the protesters and the fallout from their continued presence. For NPR News, I'm Amy Sisk in Bismarck. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.